By Oline H. Cogdill
Theater is timeless, ever evolving, ever expanding. Themes that playwrights explored a thousand years ago are—with a bit of updating—still relevant. There’s a reason why audiences never tire of Shakespeare as producers find fresh ways of exploring the Bard.
A lifelong theater enthusiast may be weary of seeing an old standard play or musical, but to a new generation, coming with fresh eyes and no history, that warhorse may seem like a revelation.
For example, consider Annie, now getting an energetic rebook through Oct. 22 in the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, as part of the Broadway Across America series.
I’ve probably seen Annie about 5,000 times on Broadway, through touring productions and at regional theaters. OK, 5,000 might be an exaggeration…perhaps only 500 times.
But my young companion had never seen Annie on the stage and she was highly entertained by this production. She and her older brother often accompany me to area theater and both have become quite the sophisticated audiences. Younger audience may have never read the Sunday comics or listened to the Annie serial on the radio (hey, I am not that old. I’ve only heard about radio serials or from countless viewings of A Christmas Story.)
But younger viewers, like my companion, have seen the movies; sometimes multiple times. My young seatmate said she has enjoyed at least two different Annie movies.
Movies aside, there is nothing like seeing a live production.
Annie continues to be one of the most reliable family-friendly offerings with its cute child actors, catchy tunes and a dog. The memorable songs are incorporated into the book, moving along the plot.
The musical also is touching paean to hope, as the song Tomorrow promises.
For those just discovering Annie, here’s the story.
Set during 1933 in New York City, 11-year-old Annie lives in an orphanage with other girls. She acts as the leader to the other orphaned girls, comforting them when they have nightmares. She longs for her parents to return to claim her, even though she was abandoned as a baby. Annie decides to run away to find her parents, but is caught by mean Miss Hannigan, who runs the orphanage like a prison.
Annie finally escapes, finds a friendly stray dog and stumbles into a Hooverville, a tent town full of people now homeless because of the Great Depression. Although Annie is brought back to the orphanage, her luck begins to change. Grace Farrell, the assistant to the billionaire Oliver Warbucks, comes to the orphanage, looking for an orphan to spend Christmas at his mansion. Surprise! Annie is picked.
Warbucks and Annie take to each other and he wants to officially adopt her. Miss Hannigan and her ne’er-do-well brother Rooster and his girlfriend Lily see this as an opportunity to make some money.
Does it end happily? Oh, please. Annie wouldn’t be such a fan favorite if it didn’t.
The musical begins and ends with a strong Annie and Rainier (Rainey) Treviño nails the part of the optimistic orphan always looking for tomorrow.
The lead cast members of the Annie at the Broward Center are in their second go-round on the tour. And it shows with strong voices and winning performances of Stefanie Londino as Miss Harrigan; Christopher Swan as Oliver Warbucks; Julia Nicole Hunter as Grace Farrell and Mark Woodard as FDR. Much applause is due Jade Smith as spunky Molly.
And Georgie who plays Sandy steals every scene he is in—my dogs would never be that well-behaved. I am sure Georgie’s understudy Bailey is just as professional.
Annie has a long theatrical history. The original Broadway production opened in 1977 and ran for nearly six years, setting a record for the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre). It won seven Tony Awards, including for Best Musical.
No doubt Annie will around for more generations to believe that “the sun will come up tomorrow.”
Annie will run through Oct. 22 in the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, as part of the Broadway Across America series. Times are 8 p.m. through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Running time 2 hours, 20 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets start at $40. For tickets visit www.browardcenter.org, ticketmaster.com; by phone 954-462-0222.